Irrigation Districts

Portrait photograph of Newton D. Hall<br />

Providence’s first Watermaster. The position of Watermaster was an important one. It required diplomacy, fair dealing, and familiarity with water law and existing canals and ditches. Hall only served for one year as Watermaster.

As the town grew from the original 20 dwellings to approximately 97 dwellings by 1870, it became clear that organization and leadership would be required in Providence to keep the peace and oversee the upkeep of the canals.[37]  The earliest attempt at such leadership came in 1862, when the Cache County Court appointed Newton D. Hall to be Providence’s “Water Master” (a.k.a. “Watermaster”).[38]  No doubt the position of Watermaster was modeled after a similar office created in Salt Lake City ten years earlier. The Watermaster was charged with overseeing the construction and repairs of "gates, locks, or sluices", dividing water shares among the citizens, and acting as an arbitrator when conflicts arose.[39]  The Watermaster had the ability to "tax" residents for their water use, requiring either labor or money to create and maintain water channels.[40]  Hall was a 43-year-old farmer from New York with a wife and eight children.[41]  He migrated to Utah in 1847 and was one of the original settlers of North Ogden.[42]  Hall only served as Watermaster for a year; he and his family left Providence by 1870.[43]  The two appointees that followed Hall also only served for a year, but the position remained in existence until the turn of the century. After that, the title remained but instead of a town Watermaster, each water company would appoint their own.


In an attempt to manage the difficult water situation in the territory and hopefully maximize cooperation and minimize conflict, the 1865 Utah Territorial Legislature passed a law to allow for the creation of “irrigation districts.”[44]  To form an irrigation district, a “majority of the citizens” in a locale had to declare that “more water is necessary and that there are streams unclaimed” which would be useful for agricultural purposes.[45]  The County Court would then organize the district.  Once this was done, all “landholders...[were] equally entitled to the use of the water in, or to be brought into such district according to their several needs.”[46]  Once a district was created, the people also had the ability to form a company and elect officers who were charged with analyzing the necessary maintenance for existing canals as well as supervising the creation of new canals. They also had the responsibility to recommend the amount of tax which the users of a canal or canals should be required to pay.[47]


Ten years after the enactment of this legislation the citizens of Providence petitioned to become part of an irrigation district. They joined with the neighboring town of Millville to create the Providence and Millville Irrigation District.[48]  Among the five trustees elected was one of the original settlers of Providence City, Hopkin J. Mathews.[49]  The Irrigation District was essentially the first water company in Providence. Under the authority of the irrigation district, the Providence-Logan Canal was built, finally bringing water from the Logan River (more than twenty years after the previous failed attempt).[50]  Nevertheless, the irrigation district was not a successful enterprise. Landholders complained of unfair treatment and one correspondent called the organization “unwieldy.”[51]  Only exacerbating the problem was the fact that Millville and Providence had different rules and regulations, creating confusion and conflict between the two towns.[52]  Some people took to personally “control[ling] [and] repairing…the ditches which they use[d]” because they believed the district was too ineffective to accomplish what needed to be done.[53]  Providence and Millville Irrigation District remained the only water company in Providence until 1901. After its dissolution “everybody wondered that it had existed so long” and considered it “remarkable that the cohesion was strong enough to hold the people together.”[54]

[37] "United States Census, 1870," database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:S3HT-D183-RFP?cc=1438024&wc=KL62-N38%3A518653001%2C518734101%2C518750301: 12 June 2019), Utah Territory > Cache > Providence > image 1 of 13; citing NARA microfilm publication M593 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.).
[38] "A" County Book, 30.
[39] “An Ordinance,” Deseret News, October 29, 1853, p. 3, https://newspapers.lib.utah.edu/ark:/87278/s6000wh0/2579670.
[40] “Water Notice,” Deseret News, April 4, 1855, p. 7. https://newspapers.lib.utah.edu/ark:/87278/s6nc6vkf/2572131.
[41] "United States Census, 1860," database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:33SQ-GBS8-9PHX?cc=1473181&wc=7QMS-8NN%3A1589436327%2C1589436647%2C1589422206: 24 March 2017), Utah Territory > Cache > Not Stated > image 22 of 66; from "1860 U.S. Federal Census - Population," database, Fold3.com (http://www.fold3.com : n.d.); citing NARA microfilm publication M653 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.).
[42] "Utah, Pioneers and Prominent Men of Utah, 1847-1868," database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:3QS7-89D2-25CY?cc=2202712&wc=M78P-2Y7%3A372655601%2C372768801%2C372768802: 9 July 2014), H > Hall > Newton Daniel Hall > image 1 of 1; excerpted from Frank Esshom, Pioneers and Prominent Men of Utah: Comprising Photographs, Genealogies, Biographies (Salt Lake City, Utah: Utah Pioneers Books, 1913).; “Honor Memory of Pioneers,” Ogden Standard-Examiner, March 5, 1924, p. 2, https://newspapers.lib.utah.edu/ark:/87278/s65d9t9k/6334546.
[43] "United States Census, 1870."
[44] Baker, Waters, 7.
[45] "An Act,” Deseret News, February 1, 1865, p. 5, https://newspapers.lib.utah.edu/ark:/87278/s62v39js/2596982.
[46] “An Act.”
[47] “An Act.”
[48] Baker, Waters, 7.
[49] Baker, Waters, 7.
[50] Baker, Waters, 7.
[51] “Irrigation Districts,” Deseret News, January 4, 1888, p. 8, https://newspapers.lib.utah.edu/ark:/87278/s6ws9nv0/2738062; “Providence—Water.”
[52] "Irrigation Districts.”
[53] "Irrigation Districts.”
[54] “Providence—Water.”